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Professional and Olympic Athletes Tell Personal Stories of Mentoring as a Social Justice Tool

Muhammad Ali Center Forum Highlights Athletes, Activists, & Experts, Including McCourty Twins, Champion Boxer Laila Ali, NBA’s Jason Collins, Olympic Legend Dr. John Carlos, Other Changemakers

“It’s a human right to be concerned about humanity,” said Dr. John Carlos during a virtual roundtable discussion with fellow athletes and activists last week. The comment, from the track and field medalist who made history at the 1968 Olympics by raising a fist to protest racism, is a testament to the power of athletes to be catalysts for social change.

Carlos and more than a dozen professional and Olympic athletes shared their personal stories of mentoring and activism when they recently kicked off the Fifth Annual Muhammad Ali Center Athletes and Social Change Forum earlier this month, hosted by the Muhammad Ali Center and MENTOR. The Forum, inspired by three-time heavyweight boxing champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, and global humanitarian Muhammad Ali, was created as a way to advance the realm of sport and social change through the lens of Ali’s Six Core Principles: Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Respect, Giving, and Spirituality.

The event included a discussion with athletes and a series of workshops with mentoring, sport, and social change leaders over two days, with a key takeaway: mentoring relationships can be catalysts for social change, especially as the country faces its past and present systemic racism, oppression, and inequity. Some of today’s most successful and celebrated athletes explored the role mentors play in helping the next generation spark and sustain social change and mentoring experts shared best practices through virtual workshop sessions. Topics ranged from emerging leaders in mentoring to integrating mindfulness to mentoring relationships, and how mentors can assess and address their own biases.

“My father has been a great example of how much of a difference one person can make,” said Laila Ali, World Champion boxer and daughter of Muhammad Ali. ““I didn’t have any mentors growing up. That’s one of the reasons why I feel it is so important now…because I know what I didn’t experience.”

“He was teaching us the game, but also he was teaching us about life,” said Etan Thomas, former NBA player and author of We Matter: Athletes and Activism of his youth basketball coach and mentor. “I can’t stress enough how important mentors are.”

“In the 1960s, Muhammad used his athletic accomplishments as a platform for social justice and social change,” said Donald Lassere, President and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center. “Athletes have a captive audience, and in today’s world- unlike the 1960s- they have social media to help amplify their messages and distribute information quickly. We are in turbulent times and young people are seeking ways to create positive change and are looking to leaders and mentors to show them how to be most effective.  We are grateful for the athletes who participated in the Forum and who provided mentorship by example and through their experiences and advice.”

“This year, more than ever in our lifetimes, mentors can work alongside young athletes and support them as they seek to achieve social change,” said Matt Meyersohn, Senior Director of External Affairs for MENTOR National, who co-hosted the event. “For many young people, inequality shows up as a gap in opportunity, networks, and access to adult relationships outside of their immediate family. As mentoring leaders, we are committed to working hand-in-hand with communities and young people across the country to address these challenges and their root causes. The Muhammad Ali Center Athletes and Social Change Forum put a spotlight on the essential role athletes can play as catalysts for social change – and how mentoring is often at the center of activism. We hope their words and stories inspire others to step up and become mentors, too.”

Download video clips for media use here: Athletes and Social Change Forum, Hosted by MENTOR and Muhammad Ali Center

Learn more about the Muhammad Ali Center Athletes and Social Change Forum, and search the Mentoring Connector for local volunteer mentoring opportunities here: